Reptiland owner Clyde Peeling presents creatures to Lewisburg community

Andrew Arnao

Sports Editor

Several reptiles from nearby Reptiland made a fun-filled trip to the University on Tuesday evening, stopping by the Rooke Chemistry Building along with their caretaker Clyde Peeling. Peeling used his 50+ years of reptile experience to show off his pets to a diverse audience that included both students and other members of the Lewisburg community. Throughout the presentation, Peeling also answered questions, prevented near-reptile escapes, and managed to draw smatterings of applause with his skillful handling of the reptiles.

“Mr. Peeling displayed all sorts of different reptiles including multiple species of snakes, a tortoise, and even an alligator,” said Harry Rudo ’13.  “It was a great experience to be so close to all of these exotic creatures without any glass or cages in the way.”

Peeling started off the exhibition by bringing out a fairly large tortoise (the tortoise, along with the other reptiles, were kept in different-sized tubs with lockable lids). He described the origins of the tortoise shell: The shell is the turtle’s skeleton that somehow got flipped outside the body more than 200 million years ago. Many of the audience oohed and ahhed at the turtle, which looked fairly unconcerned with being handled by Peeling.

The next reptile, however, was not quite as stoic as the tortoise. As Peeling pulled out a small baby alligator, it lunged in an attempt to escape, right towards the first row of the audience. An expertly timed grab by Peeling thwarted the gator’s escape, though several people in the first few rows promptly moved further back. The gator remained well behaved afterwards, and Peeling described how gators staged a successful comeback from extinction once alligator poaching was outlawed in the 1960s.

The next reptile was a fairly large lizard, closely related to the Komodo dragon according to Peeling. The reptile was described as type venomous, but “has a poor delivery system” and thus posed little threat to humans. While Peeling talked, the lizard constantly flicked his forked tongue, which Peeling compared to that of a snake; according to Peeling, “snakes are just lizards without legs.”

Snakes were next in line for the audience, as Peeling pulled out three small snakes that were twisting together in a knot. He began to describe the complexity of the snake’s detachable jaws, which can open wide enough to swallow prey 3-4 times the snake’s size, when the three snakes started untangling from each other and began crawling up Peeling’s sleeve, tie, and even belt knots. Peeling was eventually forced to return the snakes to their tubs, leading to a humorous engagement where he would manage to get two snakes into the tub only to have the third crawl out before the lid could be shut. After a minute of struggling, Peeling successfully shut away the snakes, and was congratulated with widespread applause from the audience.

Around this time, Peeling told a story about how he was bitten on his right hand by a snake when he was a child, and still suffers some health side-effects from this bite. He explained that rather than discouraging him from a career in herpetology, it instead taught him to respect the animals and learn to handle them with care. He also told a humorous story about how he was excited to be drafted during the Vietnam War so he could investigate Vietnamese reptiles, but was instead deemed too risky to get bitten while “playing” with the snakes and was sent to Greenland instead.

Peeling also showed off other snakes, including a king snake, a cobra, and a rattlesnake The cobra was particularly startling, as it popped out of its tub as soon as the lid was opened and caused half the audience to jump in alarm. The rattlesnake also began making very loud rattling noises as his tub was opened, and continued to do so while he was handled by Peeling. Though both snakes had the potential to be deadly, Peeling emphasized that he had learned to proper way to remain out of their reach, and informed the audience that those particular snakes would rarely threaten humans unless absolutely forced to.

Peeling ended the presentation with the enormous boa constrictor, and let members of the audience come up and pet it. Some of the kids who had cowered from the other snakes ran up in anticipation, and the calm, friendly boa constrictor ended up getting a surprising amount of attention.

The presentation not only served as a great event to unite the University students and members of the town of Lewisburg, but also as a way to see some rare creatures up close. Peeling’s knowledgeable descriptions of the animals also added new perspective, and made the presentation both enjoyable and informative. It seems very likely that Reptiland will be experiencing an uptick in attendance from members of the audience who wish to see more of these wonderful, fascinating creatures.

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